It is irrefutably substantial to propose that the lockdown has generally made us a little less obsessive about how we look all the time, the outfits we wear every day, and has led to a daily decrease in the shopaholic nature of our rapid consumption. It is all seeming a lot simpler because we are at home not having to conform to our social constructs. We all struggle with the daily clutter of having to manage an nth number of things, which can get to the most sorted people’s heads. The pandemic has, in a way, somehow tidied our minds with respect to the number of things we own.
The minimalist movement started out as an art movement emphasising on and advocating simplistic living, that a lot of people mistook only for aesthetics. As the unruly laws of humans always tend to find a way to corrupt anything, a floating zen ideal is already stigmatised. It is not impractical, privileged thinking that undermines the consequences of capitalism. Consumerism is an important aspect that the world functions on today. It becomes devilish when it is used to play with people’s minds in a way that forces them to buy things they don’t necessarily need. Minimising the number of things one assigns ownership to declutters our minds, and leads one to a freer lifestyle. For instance, after a person’s death, one can notice how many of that person’s memories are attached to his/her things. It’s intriguing how we let things play such a central role in a person’s being.
Jean-Paul Sartre’s interesting and famous existentialist theories were based on the inevitability of the mantra “being precedes essence”. Being is important, and essence is only secondary to that. There is peace and freedom in living that virtue. The daily chase after the things we want to buy and/or want to ‘own’ is taking over the real purposes of life. We are all involved in the rat race of earning the most amount of money, which translates in our head as buying the best, most expensive commodity, thinking of happiness or purpose in quantifiable and tangible terms. The measurable quality of ‘success’ these days is hooked onto this opaque idea of ownership. Not to devalue the importance of this success, but we achieve it in a way that we never prioritise our well being again.
Minimalism focuses on the uncontroversial preaching that one should think critically about what is necessary and what is not. In practice, therefore, it translates into, as Chayka and other have noted, a form of conspicuously inconspicuous consumption. Minimalism, however, is today characterised as the glamourisation of a simplistic lifestyle. So the original intention has now taken a back seat, and the aesthetic it happens to represent has blinded some of its followers. But this psychological impact, fortunately, or unfortunately, could add to the legacy of the notion. It’s morally a slightly grey perspective to approach the growth of the phenomena, nonetheless welcomed if it helps increase the awareness around it.
The concept of minimalism is described by critics and analysts to be highly curative, hyper-reluctant, over meticulous, stringently restrictive and arrogantly ignorant. These might just be mere consequences of some personally enhanced interpretations of the minimalist philosophy. There is no denying its mantra being overworked upon by highly organised individuals, but that’s a different representation that needn’t be projected upon the ethical commands of what the movement truly advocates. All the movement is about is cutting down consumption, monitoring usage, reducing arbitrary decisions, avoiding having to manage futility, lowering chances of redundancy, leading a reclusive path, and so on to create a lifestyle that can focus more upon the meaningful aspects of life. If we spend most of our lives worrying about things and the more superficially-aligned aspects of living, that’s all our way of thinking will stay limited to. The ascetic undertones it propagates, are crafted in relation to the lesser focused-upon connotations of simplicity that have forever fascinated its followers.
It is sick to think that minimalism romanticises poverty or the unprivileged sects. This critique is oblivious to such a highly principled phenomenon and what it aims to achieve. It is ignorant of its depths and it misunderstands the underlying spiritual faith. A capitalist-critical argument that is essential to consider argues that minimalism is highly imperative to achieve a more equitable society in terms of people’s consumption being proportionate to their needs. This will create a socio-economic environment that protects and celebrates inclusivity and actively preaches egalitarian principles. What must be criticised, if at all, should be the over-fetishisation of the curated ‘simplicity’ that the ultra-rich like to benefit from by pretending it is their ‘style of aesthetic’. The movement has been curdled into more of its ostentatious implications by such classes as ‘show off’ and ‘superficiality’. However, this is exactly what the movement proposes to combat today, added to destructuring the capitalist overindulgence.
Let’s examine a few artistic derivations of minimalism, where the expression authentically originates from. At the School of the Art Institute, Chicago, a contemporary art professor David Raskin states, “Minimalism can return you to this basic state where you’re perceiving purely. Less is more because you strip away the familiar”. A plain, monochromatic painting or object might seem mundane and dull on the surface, but actually engender a stark sensory experience the mind has never been exposed to before. It inculcates an opportunity to view the world without any preconceptions a mind is previously latched onto. Its existence is simply representative of a clean slate for one to reflect onto. The art radically imbibes the actuality of infinite possibilities and makes one not only think, but delve into introspection.
I believe that, as human beings, we must not just preach minimalism in our daily lives but constantly remind ourselves why such spiritual, socio-economic change is required in this rather belittled world of everlasting consumerist societies continually propagating capitalist ideologies, and demanding the grind and hustle to exploit our passions by rapidly creating commodities and products out of it that appeal only to the competitive politics of capitalist regimes, thereby, ultimately crumbling our innate need to stop, absorb and think.
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